By Robert Wilonsky
The deaths began as accidental tragedies. Jack might have said they were the acts of God, if he truly believed in such things. He became born-again only when his sons began dying. Jack needed to believe the deaths had meaning, that this boys weren't disappearing pointlessly.
Jackie Adkisson, born September 21, 1952, at Baylor University Hospital, was the first to be born -- and the first to die. His death occurred when he was only seven years old, when his father was on his way back from a wrestling match in Cleveland. Jack and Doris were living in Niagara Falls at the time. Their place of residence was a mobile home, a sign of how transient their lives had been while Fritz Von Erich looked for his legend.
A man in the mobile-home park had been rewiring his trailer, and he left a wire exposed that night -- a wire still full of juice. Jackie had been staying at a friend's when, on his way home, he put his hand on the trailer. He was electrocuted -- then fell to the ground unconscious. There, he died in a puddle of melting snow.
Jack blamed himself -- blamed his long trips on the road, the lifestyle of a professional wrestler always looking for a better show in a bigger town. He was convinced that had he been there that night, his son would have lived. He tried to find God, but only found that he, too, wanted to die.
"I can't imagine what it'd be like to lose a baby at that age," says Kevin,was two when his older brother died. "Any radical behavior on my fathers' part would have to be excused after that kind of grief."
Jack, by his own admission, became "pretty mean." He turned into a strict disciplinarian, quick to take the switch to the boys when they misbehaved, broke windows, didn't do their work around the house. Jackie's death nearly killed him until he took the family back to Texas in 1960; it was time to settle down, to give up the nomadic life. He still traveled, but his family now had a proper home in Dallas -- the town where Fritz Von Erich would, finally, become a star.
Jackie's death also changed the way his father approached his career. Fritz Von Erich suddenly became a dangerous wrestler. The man who had lost his first 18 matches -- not all were staged back then, especially for some guy who was just slumming it to pay the rent -- became a nightmare in the squared circle.
"He didn't fear anything. He was just ferocious, and it showed," says Kevin. "He projected it because it was there."
Jack began appearing on a Channel 4 Saturday wrestling show, then at the, a low-rent operation that Jack transformed on the strength of his reputation as a local hero. Fritz was still a young man, in fighting trim and killer shape, and he had learned much from his eight years spent driving from one hellhole to another in search of a few hundred bucks. He founded the WCCW and brought in name wrestlers from all over the country, outstanding favorites such as Verne Gagne, Wladek "Killer" Kowalski, Antonio Rocca, Bruno Sammartino. He then televised their performances from Dallas up to Chicago, Minnesota, New York, and dozens of other Northern and Eastern markets.
Back then, in the early 1960s, wrestling was for adults and still something of a sport, the outcome not always scripted in advance. It had yet to become a show peopled by fat men sporting costumes and freaks who weighed nearly 500. The days of Hulk Hogan making children's movies and Captain Lou appearing in music videos was still a long way off. Ted Turner did yet own World Class Wrestling (WCW).
Yet as much as Jack revered the traditions of wrestling, he helped end the business as well. When his boys began wrestling on Channel 39, young kids began coming up to the Sportatorium. Beer sales turned to soft drinks; the kids wanted autographed pictures of their heroes, wanted to jump in the ring and have the Von Erich boys feel how strong their muscles were.
Almost in an instant, the grown-up world of wrestling became children's play -- and a huge business. Television created thousands of markets, where there had only been hundreds. Promoters no longer cared about making money through ticket sales; they had to put on productions, gaudy shows, in order to attract ratings and advertisers. The new breed of fan needed superheroes and supervillains, Batman and the Joker duking it out in front of the cameras.
When television became big, Kevin says, "wrestling didn't depend on the gate. We got in there and just rocked. We gave it all we had, so that in the mornings after the match, we were sore and felt like we had done our best. So we would get in the ring and break teeth and bones."
To be continued...
Nitro put it's best feet forward this week with Goldberg's return to the ring in a long anticipated match against Talentless Tank, a Sting vs. Jarrett World Title match that wasn't, Vince Russo against Ric Flair in a cage, Scott Steiner vs. Vampiro and Nash running a New Blood gauntlet. The program came to us from the Phillips Arena in Atlanta, GA.
At the top of the program, Eric Bischoff came out at his smarmy best and challenged Terry Funk for his Hardcore Title. Unfortunately for Bischoff, his supposed ace in the hole Ernest the Cat managed to get himself knocked out at the beginning of the match, leaving poor uncle Eric to take the brunt of Funk's ire until Russo sent the Mamalukes out to rescue him from Funk's version of the stinky face. In the end they beat Funk down and Bischoff became the Hardcore Champ.
One of the things I have always liked about Scott Steiner (and his brother, for that matter) is that he really appears to work stiff, but in reality he is one of those artists, like Brett Hart, who tries real hard never to actually hurt anyone. In his match against Vampiro he showed admirable restraint against a young opponent who is known for really working stiff. At the close of the match, Vamp turned his attention on Latasia and threatened her with his blowtorch - which earned him an attack from Sting and caused him to lose the match.
The Goldberg/Abbott match was placed strategically at the top of the second hour. The match itself was exceedingly short - about four minutes - but considering the competition that was probably just as well. Rick Steiner and others interfered but good old Bill fought them all off and hit his classic finisher to win the match.
To keep the ante high they followed that immediately with Sting's Heavyweight Title challenge. In a flash, after some furious action, Sting had actually won the title!! Not!! Bischoff came out and declared that the match had not been announced as a Title contest. So Sting whacked the champ with his own guitar! Jarrett was hauled away on a stretcher after taking a header off the runway. Great stuff!!
Over on the other channel, RAW was countering all this with the usual extended gab fest involving "the Faction". Boooooring....
One of the highlights of Nitro was a mixed tag team match pitting Kimberley (who has taken to wearing the word "Me" on her chest) and her partner Mike Awesome took on Miss Hancock and Diamond Dallas Page. They got around the restraining order by virtue of the fact that Miss Hancock tricked Mrs. Page into signing away her rights before the match. The two girls fought in high heels until it was time for Page to tag in against Awesome and then the real fun began. This, of course, was a preview of their match coming up on Sunday. At the critical moment, Miss Hancock provided distraction so that Page could put his finisher on Awesome and get the pin.
To get around his own pledge that Hulk Hogan wouldn't face his nephew on the program...he showed up as Hollywood Hogan! The match took place in the cage that was there for the Flair/Russo contest - a Hell-in-the-Cell type enclosure with a roof on it. A big leg drop on a chair placed over Horace's face won Hulk the victory, then Kidman ran in only to be thrown through the table Hogan's nephew had set up earlier for his own use.
This was followed by the Flair/Russo main event in the same cage wherein Flair was literally chomping at the bit to get his hands on Russo. Just before this we were made aware that the younger Mr. Flair wasn't in the building and therefore Vinnie Rue was on his own. Russo's bravado lasted until the moment that Flair stripped the shirt off his skinny chest and chopped him into next week. Now it was Flair's turn to show how well he could practice the art of the pulled punch against a non-wrestler. As Russo was sinking, David Flair suddenly appeared from underneath the ring and walked right into his father's clutches. Meanwhile Reid Flair prevented Russo from escaping the cage. While the two Flairs faught on the floor, Russo pulled a ladder into the ring and set it up to reveal a trapdoor in the roof. Flair followed him right to the top of the cage and threatened to toss Russo to the floor. Russo managed to escape that fate by delivering a shot to the eyes and then dropped back into the cage. Flair followed him and stomped on David a couple of times before locking down the figure four on Russo. As Russo struggled to escape, Flair was suddenly subjected to a massive "New Blood Bath" which took Flair out and gave Russo the win.
Nash's gauntlet match was almost anticlimatic after what preceeded it. In an awesome displays of force, most of the younger members of the New Blood came out one at a time and were taken out by Nash. So then Russo sent in the troups en masse which brought Goldberg out to even the odds a bit. At the end it was unclear whether Nash had lost his title shot at the PPV - I guess not - but Bischoff came out to honor his promise earlier to suspend Goldberg if he interfered. Goldberg's response was to threaten Bishoff with bodily harm...and on that note the program ended.
RAW featured a series of King of the Ring qualifying matches plus a resolution to the three #1 contenders situation. In fact, little else of consequence happened on the show which was live from Rochester, New York.
As I mentioned earlier, the program opened with yet another silly argument among members of the McMahon-Helmsley Faction. As HHH, Shane and Vince were coming to blows, the Rock showed up to contribute his $.02 worth. He wanted a title match (duh...) Kane and the Undertaker then showed up in turn to add their demands. The Faction resolved their differences (of course) by deciding to put the aforementioned three #1 contenders in a triple threat match to winnow them out - then granted the winner of that match a title challenge at the end of the program. This nonsense consumed nearly the first quarter of the program. As could be expected, the Rock won the brutal triple threat match (after which he and his opponents were all attacked by chair wielding members of the Faction) and was scheduled to face HHH in the main event.
A six man tag match featuring Too Cool/Rikishi against T&A/Val Venis was full of great action. At one point Trish Stratus obligingly handed Grand Master Sexay her boot so that he could hit Test with it but she also provided the distraction that allowed her guys to take the win. She suffered the stinky face before it was all over.
Chyna and Val Venis (who both won their matches on Heat the night before) Chris Benoit, and Hardcore Holly (who had an unconvincing win over Faarooq) all advanced in the KOR tournament. Kurt Angle and Crash Holly had qualified on SmackDown last Thursday. Rikishi advanced on RAW last week.
For the comic relief of the evening, Stooge member Gerald Brisco retained his Hardcore Title during a defense against the former eight-time champ, Crash Holly, who had attacked Pat Patterson by mistake earlier during a backstage interview. At one point Patterson tried to interfere using his "skidmarked" underwear as a weapon. Brisco ended up wearing them on his head! Another bit of comedy, probably not intended, occurred when the Big Bossman and Bull Buchanan had a falling out. What was funny was the supposition by the promotion that anyone really cared...
In a backstage interview, Stephanie booked a Womens' Battle Royal to determine a #1 contender for her championship.
For his Title defense, HHH made the rest of the faction promise not to interfere, over their objections naturally. He was a little startled a moment later to learn that the referee for the match was to be Earl Hebner. In the end, even as HHH was holding his own, the McMahon's and Co. couldn't stay away and tried to interefere - causing referee Hebner to fight them off until he was knocked down - and then a punk job ensued...until the Scary Brothers arrived to break it up. Things were looking up for our hero until he accidently (?) smacked the Undertaker with a chair. UT chokeslammed the Rock and caused him to lose the match. Afterward UT showed his contempt for the Faction by punching HHH out of the ring.
My candidate for the weirdest match of the week was a three-way-dance for the Cruiserweight Title featuring the champion (Daffney??) Lt. Loco (aka Chavo Guerrero, Jr.) and Disco Inferno. What at first seemed would be a rout with Daffney on the receiving end was altered by the very nature of the three way contest. Everytime it seemed like someone would pin the champ, the other male competitor would break it up. It all broke down when Miss Hancock and Kimberly showed up to distract Daffney completely away from the ring. Back inside all semblence of order disappeared as GI Bro hit the ring and destroyed Disco so that Lt. Loco could pin him and win the Title.
After a lackluster match against Pvt. Stash (Van Hammer), Kidman called out his estranged girlfriend to apologise for his actions on Monday...but Torrie wasn't buying it. She slapped him and left without a word. Meanwhile, Vince Russo's angle involved a bunch of senior citizens that he brought to the arena for some undisclosed reason. We later learned that they were the guests for a Ric Flair "retirement party" which was to take place in the ring. In the middle of Russo's rant a giant cake was wheeled out on the runway. Russo immediately assumed that Flair was hiding in the cake and opened it up to investigate. Meanwhile, Ric Flair appeared from under the ring, took out his son David, then hauled Russo back to the ring and stuck his face in the real cake that sat on a table inside the ropes. Some party...
It was revealed on the program that Eric Bischoff has handed the Hardcore Title over to the Mamalukes. Their first title defense was in a handicap match against the Wall. Who exactly was handicapped wasn't actually clear... Shane Douglas had to run in and interefere to help them retain their title. This was followed by Talentless Tank coming out to demand a rematch with Goldberg and then challange Kevin Nash to a match on the show. After Abbott threatened Tony Schiavone's son at ringside, Nash came down on the attack only to have Rick Steiner hit the ring right behind him. Scott Steiner arrived to help out and earned himself a run through the New Blood gauntlet. At the same time Bischoff made that match he also declared that Goldberg would be arrested if he showed up and Nash couldn't interefere in the gauntlet match at the cost of his title shot on Sunday. Of course, at that moment Golberg slammed his way in through the back of the building...
The new Tag Team Chumps defended their title against GI Bro and Capt. Rection. On paper this one looked to be a title change waiting to happen. But then Hugh Morris's old dad showed up in an Army uniform and managed to distract his son at the critical moment. The Chumps retained.
Sting came down for a match with the Cat, but was Pearl Harbored by Vampiro with a fire extinguisher. Vamp proceeded to use the Stinger Splash, the Scorpion Death Drop and the Scorpion Deathlock on his opponent before dragging him out to the floor. He then chased the announcers away from the broadcast table, doused it with kerosine, then set it on fire. Sting had recovered by this time and had the fire extinguisher to put the fire out. He slung Vamp into the guard railing then tried to splash him but missed. Vampiro slammed Sting down on the table and then taunted him as we cut to commercial.
Mean Gene interviewed Hollywood Hogan before the main event. Classic Hogan stuff - "brother" this and "brother" that, yatta, yatta, yatta.
Scott Steiner prefaced his gauntlet run by threatening Bischoff with bodily harm regardless of the outcome of this match. Chris Candido was the first victim (of a super belly-to-back suplex). Sean Stasiak was next followed by Chuck Palumbo while Kevin Nash watched anxiously from the back. The Cat was skinned next, then Mike Awesome followed him with Shane Douglas right on his heels. At this point, Nash was about to run out but was met by a guitar shot from Jeff Jarrett before he got out of his dressing room. Goldberg ran out to save Steiner and was about to be arrested as the program ended.
Rather then change their pattern to any great degree, the WWF "treated" us to another rant fest from the MH Faction, minus Vince McMahon. They came to the ring amid a flurry of balloons and confetti because HHH wanted to have a party to celebrate the elimination of all three of the #1 contenders to his WWF Title. The Rock showed up just about the time they go into a group hug to throw a bit of cold water on the festivities by threatening HHH with a butt kicking, regardless of whether its a title contest or not. HHH tried to deflect Maivia's anger toward the Undertaker - and showed some footage to back up his assertions. This brought the Undertaker out on his motorcycle right to ringside. He drove around the ring then parked at the foot of the ramp between the Rock and the ring. Suddenly he ran into the ring and started knocking down everyone in sight as Kane watched on a backstage monitor. Maivia joined the frey and gradually the ring emptied until just HHH, X-Pac, UT and the Rock remained. UT got hold of a chair and started swinging, taking out all three of the others. Maivia was left laying in the ring while UT jumped on his bike and chased the MH Faction out of the arena.
The very strange team of Dean Malenko and the Godfather challenged for the Tag Team Titles...and lost. Jeff Hardey took on Chris Benoit for his Intercontinental Heavyweight Title...and lost. Then Stephanie arranged a handicap match featuring Edge Christian and Kurt Angle against the Dudleys...who won.
In a backstage scene, the Faction decided to book a six man tag match pitting DX against the Rock, Kane and the Undertaker (yawn...)
There was a Womens' Battle Royal to determine the #1 contender for Stephanie's Title (which she has never defended since she won it quite some time ago). Jacqueline, Lita, Terri, the Kat and Ivory all competed with Tori as the referee. The last two came down to Lita and Ivory - both legit wrestlers at least...and Lita took the win...at which poit Tori attacked her then invited Steph into the ring to take the pin. What a match!!! (he says, his voice dripping with sarcasm...) After the match Lita vowed that it wasn't over...
Eddie Guerrero and Matt Hardey vied in a KOR Tournament qualifier in another match where the outcome would have seemed to be pre-detremined...and was. Guerrero qualified.
Val Venis vowed to pay Rikishi back for laying his butt in Trish Stratus' face but it took an interference by the lady for him to win the match - and he still ended up getting creamed. After the pinfall, they battled up the ramp and Val was kicked off the platform and then splashed on the floor. Val should have left well enough alone...
The main event was the afore mentioned six man match. As usual, DX is thinking of this as some kind of "punishment" although in my book they were letting themselves in for a beating. And so it proved through most of the match. Each of the three former #1 contenders managed to get his licks in. DX was treated to a sound thrashing. Earl Hebner was the referee, of course. The only one on the DX side who had any success in the match was the big cheese himself, HHH. The Dogg and X-Pac pretty much remained on the receiving end until HHH set the Rock up for them. And still, the Dogg managed to throw the advantage away after a few moments. I finally figured out that the Undertaker is wearing that baggy "Mankind style" top these days to cover his gut... In the end, he got into the match and off DX to give his team the win. Of course a free-for-all donnybrook ensued after the match...and then the Rock "accidently" hit Kane with a chair.
These guys need to get some new material...
After the first break, Cyrus made Raven an offer for the push of his career if he would just shake the hand of Scotty Anton. He agreed as long as he could apply his evenflo DDT afterward. Naturally, this turned into a match which Anton dominated. Once he had Raven in position, Anton went to work on the bird man's leg with a chop block and several other big moves as Cyrus yelled, "Break it!" After taking it for several moments, Raven made his comeback and used his snot rag on his opponent. Cyrus slipped a chair into the ring but, of course, Raven is a master of using the chair as a weapon. Now it was all Raven for a while - but then suddenly Anton recovered and slapped on the "Clapper" (Sharp Shooter) forcing Raven to tap out.
As usual, the Baldies were there to rant against their perrenial enemy, New Jack. How many times does he have to put these guys down? When are they going to get him some new competition? And why does the ECW Hotline seem to talk about nothing but the competition? Don't these guys think the fans might want to hear some inside info on ECW once in a while?
The main event was supposed to be a tag team match pitting the World Champ/Mystery Partner against Tommy Dreamer/Mystery Partner...but first we had to endure another appearance by the network stooge...er...Cyrus, with the TV Champ in tow this time. He came out to talk a little business with Justin Credible - he wanted Credible to destroy Dreamer and offered Rhino for his mystery partner. Credible agreed to that. Dreamer came out alone to heighten the suspense a little, then he intorduced his partner...by popping the top on a can of beer! The Sandman ran in eschewing his usual long walk to the ring and the fight was on. Sandman and Credible battled in the ring while Dreamer took Rhino on out on the floor. Sandman brought a ladder in and made good use of it while Dreamer and Rhino faught into the crowd then back into the ring where they changed opponents for a while. As things seemed to be going well for the good guys, Steve Corino ran in and changed the odds. But then Tajiri ran in and evened things up again. This situation lasted maybe a minute before Anton ran in and it was four-on-three until Rob Van Dam joined the frey on the side of the good guys. Eventually he frog splashed Rhino then rolled out of the way so that Sandman could get the pin. The bad guys then came back en masse and Atntom slapped his finisher on RVD as Cyrus was again yelling, "Break his leg!!!"
Before I end this edition I'd like to make something clear.
There was a discussion initiated on the Mailroom page this week concerning my opinions about the way the WCW programs have improved lately. There were a couple of posts that took me to task saying that they disagreed because of the way there seems to be less wrestling and more entertainment these days.
I just want to say that I agree with that observation. If you ask me if I like the way wrestling has been going the last few years, I have to answer, "decidedly not". But that really doesn't speak to the fact that it is undeniable that recent WCW programming has improved immeasurably over what they were putting out just a few months ago. And I would also contend that WCW has become much more interesting then the recycled stuff they keep serving up over at the competition.
At least that's the way I see it...
Editor, Solie's Wrestling Newsletter
This page is a personal tribute andis in no way connected to any of the wrestling promotions mentioned on it. It is dedicated to the Dean of Wrestling announcers, Gordon Solie.
Copyright 2000 - Jump City Productions